Quickly detecting circulating tumor cells (CTCs) would be a major boon for cancer diagnostics, but serious challenges persist because CTCs in infected blood are rarer than needles in haystacks. Visual microscopy is a good way of identifying CTCs, but millions of flowing cells have to be photographed very quickly, and researchers at UCLA have developed a new kind of camera to do just that.
They implemented photonic time-stretch camera technology and serial time-encoded amplified microscopy (STEAM) that the team developed only three years ago along with special microfluidics and image processing hardware to be able to screen 100,000 cells per second, according to a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is two orders of magnitude faster than what available image analyzers can do, perhaps opening the door for ubiquitous rapid CTC screenings.
Their research demonstrates real-time identification of rare breast cancer cells in blood with a record low false-positive rate of one cell in a million. Preliminary results indicate that this new technology has the potential to quickly enable the detection of rare circulating tumor cells from a large volume of blood, opening the way for statistically accurate early detection of cancer and for monitoring the efficiency of drug and radiation therapy.
“This technology can significantly reduce errors and costs in medical diagnosis,” said lead author Keisuke Goda, a UCLA program manager in electrical engineering and bioengineering.
The results were obtained by mixing cancer cells grown in a laboratory with blood in various proportions to emulate real-life patient blood.
“To further validate the clinical utility of the technology, we are currently performing clinical tests in collaboration with clinicians,” said Goda, also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute. “The technology is also potentially useful for urine analysis, water quality monitoring and related applications.”
Abstract in PNAS: High-throughput single-microparticle imaging flow analyzer